Ernest Scheyder | The Real Costs To Mine The Cobalt, Lithium, Copper & Rare Earths That Will Dictate The 21st Century

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Ernest Scheyder | The Curious Worldview Podcast #170

There is a perennial trade off between the competing interests for whether we dig stuff from out of the ground…  or if we just let it be…

Is the damage to the beauty, environment, and culture worth the riches in minerals, building materials and energy that it costs to extract?

There are plenty of instances where that trade off has clearly come at cost to nature, but then as well, perhaps even more where the environmental trade off has been worthwhile….

After all, we live in a built environment. The sheer quantities of sand mined every year to fuel the concrete that we interact with scars permanently riverbeds, creates water scarcity and pollutes so much of the world. Australia alone has dug out thousands, if not millions of tonnes or iron ore to then sell to a China who goes onto build, in the worst case, ghost cities that no one inhabits. Oil, the great carbon slick that we’ve so feverishly extracted from the earth has offset the carbon cycle under which we evolved… and depending who you believe, that single cost to the environment may end up being the end of us. 

But then as well, that same oil, that same concrete, that same iron ore and that same everything else has also enabled the innovation and prosperity from which our growing population benefits. 

In 1900 there were 1.6 billion people… today, theres over 8 billion. That’s an insane growth which has an immense hunger for the very same stuff which ruins our environment. 

And So… as you can see, a rather tricky trade off, and the central one which Ernest Scheyder runs directly towards in the ‘War Below’...

The electrification of the economy is on the one hand very good. It means we can move away from consuming the carbon rich oil into our atmosphere… but it also means that we are going to need way more other stuff from the under the ground than we currently even know about. It will require mining 100’s of more sacred sites and 100’s of more beautiful vistas. 

Copper, lithium, cobalt and literally 100’s of other rare earths are all necessary components of batteries, electric cars, trucks, boats, even leaf-blowers… and this for a scale for 8 billion, soon to be 9 billion people…

If a sacred religious sight is built atop enough copper to secure your domestic supply… should you mine it?

If thousands of tonnes of lithium is built under a unique flower, almost certain to go extinct if you extract… should you do it?

And if you decide to play by environmental rules while everyone doesn’t… are you doing what’s right in the short term at the cost of whats best in the long?

These questions consume the book, and as well, this conversation.

So here is a veteran energy journalist for Rueters, and author of the War Below… Ernest Scheyder.

War Below – Ernest Scheyder

Timestamps For Ernest Scheyder

  • 00:00 – Understanding Ernest Scheyder’s ‘War Below’
  • 02:54 – Daniel Yergin & Geothermal Energy
  • 05:21 – It’s Trade-Off’s All The Way Down (Mining, Policy Hypocrisy)
  • 28:08 – Ernest’s Hesitation To Offer His Opinion
  • 36:10 – Waste, Death & Bi-Products Of Mining
  • 54:19 – Greenwashing & Child Labour
  • 1:06:16 – Appreciation For The Miners
  • 1:08:58 – Economic Protectionism
  • 1:11:18 – Robert Friedland
  • 1:12:36 – Final 3 Questions… Serendipity, Fictional Character, Country Bullish On

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